Thursday, August 1, 2019

A RESURRECTION FOR "WOW"

WOW--Moby Grape
For a brief moment in 1967 it seemed Moby Grape would be the greatest rock ‘n’ roll band of all time. The evidence that the San Francisco band would ascend to the uppermost heights of the rock pantheon was their eponymously titled debut album ,Moby Grape. Bay Area promoter Matthew Katz assembled the band around Canadian guitarist, songwriter, and vocalist Skip Spence, a colorful figure who incidentally played drums on the first Jefferson Airplane album. Katz raided other bands in Northern and Southern California for other musicians, settling finally on lead guitarist Jerry Miller and drummer Don Stevenson, guitarist Peter Lewis and bassist/vocalist Bob Mosley. It would seem they assembled the band Svengali-like, but the musicians took to one another remarkably well. Perhaps brilliantly is the more suitable adverb, as their first release made the cold, cynical hearts of the rock critic cabal go aflutter. Though the band intended to showcase Spence, all five musicians contributed in equal measure as songwriters and vocalists, with the first album regarded by many pundits, critics, and wags as the finest album from the San Francisco scene of the 1960s. Fronted by a three-man guitar army in Miller, Lewis, and Spence, their sound was eclectic, vibrant, and tight yet not constricted in their arrangements, with songs that easily bridged the styles of hard rock, country, blues, folk-rock, just touching the edges of jazz and pure psychedelia.
From nowhere came a group of collaboratively written songs with fetching melodies and crystalline harmonies that rivaled the Byrds. Their lyrics reflected the free-for-all times, of course, but there was something reliably grounded in this collective’s approach to describing experience, a refreshing stoicism learned from this band’s leanings toward working-class country and the gritty realism of the blues. The guitars meshed together wonderfully, wittily, at once powerful, rapid, bludgeoning with “Omaha” or in the delicately layered picking and strumming underscoring the subtly wrenching melancholy in the ballad “8:05.” The stylistic range and consistent excellence of the songwriting was utterly superb, the musicianship drew nearly uniform raves from reviewers, live performances were leaving audiences in varying states of awe. You wonder what might go wrong, but things did go awry after they released the album. The Sixties counterculture didn’t want corporate pre-packaging; the preference was for music that was real, risk-taking, authentic.Image result for moby grape

The precise definition of the authenticity was nebulous, but many of them could smell hype quickly from afar. Hype was exactly what Columbia Records, the band’s record label (and a subsidiary of CBS) did to promote them, infamously releasing five singles at the same time. The thinking was that a shot-gun approach would assure that at least one of the five would hit and garner maximum airplay and revenue. It failed miserably. Rock magazines, underground newspapers, and some strait-laced writers for the mainstream press viewed the ploy as conspicuously cynical to move product. The band’s reputation suffered as a result, although they continued to receive airplay on FM radio stations and drew audiences at live gigs. Moby Grape, though, didn’t sell in the numbers that fans and critics think it should have. Some of the spirit was leeched from the band. With their second album Wow, released in 1969, we have a harbinger of the series of bad breaks and bad decisions that stunted this band’s once-seemingly infinite potential.
It’s worth a mention that Grape’s debut was released May 29, 1967, three days after the seismic release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely-Hearts Club Band on May 26 that same year. It would seem there was a fateful invisible hand at work here. The Beatles were receiving praise for their willingness to experiment with song form and production technique, particularly with Rubber Soul in 1965 and, later and more ambitiously, with 1966’s Revolver. Sitars, multiple track overdubbing, instruments played backwards, musical styles covering the range of blues, hard rock, rhythm and blues, classical allusions, old-time jazz and Music Hall balladry became part of the lexicon that rock bands could and would use in songs and records. Rock ‘n’ roll was now just “rock.” They elevated it to an art form or so critics and millions of naïve fans declared. The Beatles raised the bar with those two albums, and it seemed that any musical group worth attention emulated the British band’s initiative, Moby Grape among them. It’s arguable that the first album was the rare thing, a high-quality disc bearing the influence of someone else’s work; perhaps Grape had nearly equaled the Beatles in their achievements so far. The release of Sgt.Pepper changed everything and raised the bar again, this time to absurd heights. Where Rubber Soul and Revolver were brave if slightly tentative steps toward turning pop music into a much more adventurous, artful undertaking, Sgt.Pepper strolled boldly, in giant steps, crossing genres with ease, inventing new sounds and recording techniques as they laid it down, writing subtly arranged melodies and melodies with a keener wit and a modernist poetic bent remindful of T.S. Eliot and William Carlos Williams.
Nothing seemed off limits or off the table for the Brits. Moby Grape’s release in July of 1967 was comparable to Revolver, and three days later the Beatles exploded all the things they’d been playing with for years, reconfiguring the pieces for a new music. Because the Beatles were so far ahead of the game, I remember thinking that it would be folly for other musicians to match their achievement. The Stones tried and famously failed with Their Satanic Majesties Request, released later in 1967.It was a stoned-out two-sided self-indulgence. It was more murk than music. Jagger, Richards, and the rest realized their foolishness and returned to their rhythm and blues roots.
There is little doubt that Moby Grape felt competitive with the Liverpudlians. Even after the much-maligned fiasco of Columbia Records’ release-five-singles gimmick, the first received almost universal praise from critics as an across-the-board masterpiece. It was surely their due to go up against the Beatles and their Sgt. Pepper achievement and show them how it’s done.
This was a period where the Beatles were receiving an unwholesome amount of credit for every element of studio and melodic sophistication in rock music, and it should be said that the single biggest motivation, most likely, for Lennon and McCartney to up their game and turn their pop-rock into art music was the Beach Boys and their Pet Sounds album. Released May 16, 1966, a full year before the release of the Beatles’ disc, Pet Sounds was head Beach Boy Brian Wilson in full flower as composer and arranger, constructing songs with odd meters, ethereal harmonies, sweeping sound stacks of nearly symphonic effect that was brilliantly anchored by the work of the Wrecking Crew, the famed collection of session musicians who gave flesh and blood to Wilson’s abstract and diffuse explanations of what he wanted his songs to sound like. The boys from Liverpool, particularly McCartney, were flabbergasted by what they heard. The competition began in earnest, Sgt.Pepper was their response, and the consequence of the rivalry were two masterpieces. And now it was Moby Grape’s turn to one-up the Beatles.
If Moby Grape deserves its place in the canon, Wow is surely the sharpest disappointment for a follow-up effort. Appearing on store shelves in April 1968, it sold well, peaking at number 20 on the Billboard 200 album chart but was greeted by expressly mixed reviews. I remember that a few reviews were particularly vicious, with most tastemakers citing the album’s faults with questionable production decisions. There was, in fact, many that recommended the album. American rock critic Robert Christgau succinctly summarized the album’s dilemma, saying Wow suffered from “Pepperitis,” referring to the strong impulse at the time to emulate the Beatles’ best and worst habits. Some of Wow’s artful strokes are baffling, sometimes infuriating. “Bitter Wind,” a compelling folk song highlighting the woes and sorrows of a man looking for truth through an unforgiving life, begins and proceeds beautifully, with a stirring pair of acoustic guitars that provide a galloping rhythm as Bob Mosley shouts a beautifully hoarse, soul-inflected vocal. All starts off grandly: the guitars, Mosley’s gritty singing, and chiming choir boy harmony when matters are summarily destroyed. Out of nowhere a gong is banged and as its resonance fades, the listener is overwhelmed with a blitzkrieg of sound, a virtual cacophony of electronic blorts and blasts simulating a hard wind, under which we hear fragments of the song and Mosley’s fine vocal forlornly obscured.
This was little more than the creation of something very fine, honest, and soulful and then smothering it with the thickest, gaudiest pillow you could find. Note that there are live acoustic versions of “Bitter Wind” available on later repackagings of Moby Grape songs. The unsullied version is worth seeking. There are many other bits of production overkill that would add a thousand more words to this piece, but an item I must bring up is a track called “Just Like Gene Autry: A Foxtrot.” Again, coming from a fad started by the Beatles and their Music Hall, turn-of-the-century tributes like “When I’m 64” and furthered with bands like the New Vaudeville Band (“Winchester Cathedral”) or Harper’s Bizarre (“Anything Goes”) securing hits with retro sounds, Moby Grape wanted a crack at it. But more so. Perhaps they were thinking that listeners weren’t getting the full experience of music made in the days of primitive recording technology. As the second to last song faded, there were a few seconds of silence and then a spoken voice booming through the speakers, announcing that he was there to remind you that the next song was at 78rpm, the same speed as the old albums our grandparents bought, and that it would do us good to get out of seats and change the album to the recommended setting. I don’t remember being high, but the announcement startled me and made me as indignant as a 16-year-old could become. 

I got off my bed where I’d been listening with my head wedged between two detachable speakers and changed the speed. Waiting for me at the sped-up rate were simulated scratches, crowd noise as if this were emanating from a live location and Arthur Godfrey, THE Arthur Godfrey, going along with the joke by introducing a fictional jazz dance band from atop an equally bogus hotel. The music was a sluggish parody of long-ago pop aesthetics, a humorless slice of nostalgia-mongering that was a profound drag to sit through. The best way to describe how miserable “Just Like Gene Autry” sounded is to suggest that you imagine playing your vinyl albums while pressing your thumb on the spinning disc. This ruins the listening experience, since from that time onward I made it a point to rise rapidly from whatever chair I was sitting in and lift the arm from the record before being instructed to change the record’s speed. But that bit of labor is something I did willingly for several years, as there is terrific music on Wow.
Several songs remain unscathed despite bad production and inflated ideas, as we have in the wonderful tale of “Motorcycle Irene,” Skip Spence’s darkly comic rendering of the myth of the motorcycle Madonna, the tough chick all the guys want but no one wants to mess with. With a rolling, rumbling piano making things move along with a surfeit of bass notes, Irene’s tale is wry and ironic. “Murder in My Heart for the Judge” shows Moby Grape’s blues side to superb effect, a chug-a-long shuffle where the band’s trademark three-pronged guitar work gives us something of a dialogue between the fret player, a call and response of anxiety, glee, and stoned nonchalance as a hippie appears before a hanging judge. Mosley sings lead again and shows himself as a man who might have been one of the great blue-eyed soul singers. Here, though, he is a free spirit baring his soul and throwing himself on the mercy of the cosmic inevitability before him, a plea to the judge responds “Just for getting smart boy/ I’m gonna give you more than a lifetime…” Jerry Miller slashes, punctuates, and animates the courtroom crisis with his fluid, witty blues guitaring. Despite a French horn introduction and the middle section that seem arbitrary and nonsensical, “Can’t Be So Bad” is a powerhouse boogie where all the counter culture trappings are dropped, the pretense of a generational consensus vanishes, leaving only the protagonist making a case to her beau that things are going get better if she just gives him another chance. The unadorned beseeching of a man to his mate was refreshing, honest, disarming. Miller’s guitar solo here positively rips with the sting of Bloomfield and all of Clapton’s fluidity. Truth is that Wow has several good songs: “He,” “Naked If I Want To,” “Three-Four,” “Rose Colored Glasses,” and “Miller’s Blues,” which rise above the often-murky sound mix and indifferently applied effects.
Their sophomore effort, truth, was one of the most disappointing purchases I made with my combined allowance and pop-bottle cash, naively assuming it was too diffuse, esoteric, muddy, self-indulgent, and all those terms one gleans from reading Rolling Stone and Crawdaddy’s record review sections. All the same I kept dropping Wow onto my turntable, moved the needle around to skip what was less worth a listen, and basked in a growing appreciation of how wonderful this band could be if there was nothing blocking their muse. Imperfect as it was, this record has been part of my permanent record collection all these decades later. Wow was a disappointment, but the best of it retains the  naive spark and sass. Naive, which is to say innocent, and part of the miracle of Moby Grape's first record and the most sublime minutes of Wow is that the band rarely advanced beyond innocence into the quicksand of pretentiousness. When they did, as on Wow, they paid the cost with grating, unlistenable minutes . 

(This originally appeared in the San Diego Troubadour. Used with kind permission).

Monday, July 1, 2019

AFTER THE END, THE BEGINNING

Image result for the hospice bubble
THE HOSPICE BUBBLE
and Other Devastating Affirmations
Poems by Lizzie Wann

Witnessing the decline and eventual death of a parent is the surest way to send any of us into the deepest well of depression and morbid reflection. Few of us handles it with quite the grace we might have hoped for.  Shock, relentless grief, guilt, recrimination are only some aspects the lot of us go through when our parents are suddenly, rudely absent in our lives. We try to make sense of it all, of the choices we've made and the things we've done. There is, it seems, no meaning to find behind it all other than the acceptance of the fact the clan is smaller now and that our lives go on.

Lizzie Wann, a very fine California poet with a sharp sense of the telling detail and lean cadence that conveys underlying emotion and tone, has an engrossing new collection of poems in which we witness her going through the death of her father. The Hospice Bubble and Other Devastating Affirmations.  A sequence of poems of how she cared for her dying father up to the inevitable final day, Wann fearlessly records the days , the incidents, many small and painstaking matters as the days wore on, through surgeries, meals, bits and pieces of final conversation, there is a palpable tension in these lines. There’s no need for the Big Language. Wann is too good a poet for gaudy special effects. She lays bare her ambivalence about her father's decline. These poems are not the grand slam and over decorated summation of what one has discovered about themselves at the end of the trial; Wann’s triumph is in her spare, uncluttered impressions. Throughout the poems that comprise the title sequence, Wann writes with the concision of Hemingway and the chiseled elegance of a Lorrie Moore. Lizzie navigates these narrative fragments with a sure foot even as the ground beneath abruptly shifts. There is a strong sense of someone who’s on a new emotional territory, having her wits and resources challenged, tested.  Each poem yielding some small piece of hard-won insight.  It is the ultimate irony. Her father helped come into the world, and now she is helping him leave it. The poet doesn’t rely on the convenience of easy irony. As splendidly recollected in the piece “Winter Solstice 2017”, what she finds isn’t just making his passage comfortable, but finding out how deep her love for him has deepened, the love of a daughter for a father. While in a hospice, her father tells her of a decision he’s made.

Winter Solstice 2017

on the longest night of the year 

my father said he was ready to die
 his decision was both shocking & comforting 
we had talked on the phone earlier
he was desperately tired
it was different than other times
sitting beside him in his hospital room …
my mom on the other side, he said, 
“I’ve made a decision.”
I took his hand, his skin soft & thin, 
“I want to go home, be done with this,”…
he gestured with his other hand to show 
hospital, machines, gowns, fluorescence 
“I want you to talk to them tomorrow.”

This could seem a cold observation of Wann’s way of writing through these momentous events, but I think it’s a worth mentioning this writer’s efficiency. No casual word- slinger throwing words at a page to see what sticks to the wall, she avoids easy allure of wallowing in her misery. Blessedly, Lizzie Wann as well doesn’t of offer unrefined introspection more appropriate for private journals rather than a poetry volume.  Like a fine musician who has learned the art of note choice, she chooses her words wisely. Knowingly or not, she is composing with Ezra Pound’s notion of writing to the rhythm of the musical phrase and not the metronome. This makes her poems powerful and lyric, poetic in ways a reader doesn’t expect. Pound’s fellow poet William Carlos Williams worked for a verbal quality to his poems, as close to Spoken Language as the imagination would allow.  Wann has that in her poems, a rhythm and a flexible emphasis that conveys a mind’s hesitation, the rush of sensation, a sudden flash or sorrow or swift and brief elation. What I’ve always admired about Lizzie Wann’s poems is the sense of something bristling under the surface of the written lines, a confession, a fleeting insight, a secret struggling to emerge. “Winter Solstice 2017”, she accounts for speaking with the family, the doctors, conversations matters intimate and private with her father. She returns home finally, still processing the profundity of her father’s request. At end of day, she slips into needed sleep. Wann is at her best her, deeply, lyrically moving , beautiful in its elegantly unadorned honesty:


that night, I slept in his bed, 

but not before I examined his room, 

opened closet doors
 took a picture of his shirts 
tried to sleep but could only see 
a family vacation to Yellowstone
 where he threw my child body into the air 
so I could see higher, how I was surprised 
then delighted by his spontaneity 
the thrill of the toss, how he caught me 
did it again, laughing my daddy laughing 
unburdened
but not before I examined his room, 
opened closet doors
 took a picture of his shirts 
tried to sleep but could only see 
a family vacation to Yellowstone
 where he threw my child body into the air 
so I could see higher, how I was surprised 
then delighted by his spontaneity 
the thrill of the toss, how he caught me 
did it again, laughing my daddy laughing 
unburdened


I ought to emphasize that the 25 poems that make up the title suite of 
The Hospice Bubble and Other Devastating Affirmations aren't relentlessly dour or respectively bittersweet in tone. The sequence is not necessarily in order, and have the quality of a mosaic, poems composed as different memories sparked different ideas and moods. Meals, chats, frustrations small and big, the irritations minor and major which stress the limits of one’s willingness to go on, area highlighted in the selected poems. There is a subtle wit that underscores the pilgrimage , suggested in this volume’s subtle by the phrase “Devastating Affirmations”; this passage is both curse and blessing, a tragedy that transforms a life with a blunt inevitability, but an event that provides the opportunity for every woman and man to become the adults in their expanded household. Samuel Beckett, the poet laureate of perennial stasis, moaned famously, to paraphrase,… I can’t go on… I’ll go on,” a phrase mimicking the collective grunt of a common man getting out of bed with a conviction that the crushing burden of life on its own terms, the daily grind, is insurmountable and unending: they can’t take it anymore.  And yet man, the woman, showers, shaves, has coffee and leaves the house to do battle again, finding, for a moment, the will to engage again. I believe Wann has a more interesting journey; through her efforts to aid her father with his pain and eventual death, she becomes who she is. 

Other affirmations, not so devastating, are also dealt with in his potent book, those being deaths, depression, writing, love, matters she writes her way through. I sense a writer who picks up the pen to find out what she thinks about the people, places and thinks which continue to make days and nights something less than serene glide. What arises as I read the poems was the faint but pulsing rhythm of hope, not so much the typical glad tidings imprinted on bumper stickers and corporate greeting cards, but rather a recognition that all this misery, labour, all the toiling in attending to final days and hours of a parent's life is a process of discovery of one's aptitude to navigate personal tragedy's rocky stream. Life continues, one's wits were sharpened, one's eyes have adjusted to the dark that shrouded their life for a time, and the sun arises again, the wind blows, the air smells sweet.  Wann writes about many small things in a big way, a writer fascinated with being alive in the world.

To end , lets consider a short poem, the last piece in the book:

Emergence  

 a fingertip 

a strand of hair
 an eyelash
 my pinkie toe 
 ever so slowly 
it seems I may just find 
my way out 


(Originally appeared in The San Diego Troubadour. Used with permission).

Thursday, June 13, 2019

READ WHAT YOU MEAN

Well, you have to stop sometimes so you can appreciate what the senses have given you as you go your way through the world . You have to stop in order to write about the need to pursue the seductive logic of never stopping . But you have to stop before you go forward, as the brain absorbs only so much ; you stop , you breathe, you think, you connect what has happened recently with the narrative of a life already recorded. This engages you with the world, truly, this is where the poetry comes from, not gushing hot lava adjectives and verbs while writing that the world is made more real by moving forward, with out apology, without pause or reflection, following the string wherever it leads. But this is not poetry and it is not lyricism. The writer in those times they stop agitating the gravel and take pause to reflect, meditate, consider the thingness of the world they’ve blazed through a little too quickly, there arises the sense that one forgets that they are a writer, the self-appointed priest of making things happen on the fly; the writing becomes about the world , the people, the places, the things that occupy the same space as you, the same patch of land your visiting. It becomes less about the writer, the seeker of knowledge attempting to gain knowledge through velocity , the impatient explorer more concerned with inflaming their senses rather than being genuinely curious about and teachable within the world. You have to stop , take a breath, create a language, a poetry, a prose style that convinces the reader that they’ve actually encountered something extraordinary in their travels through hill and dale, river and inlet, village and burg, that they’ve actually learned something they didn’t know before. Otherwise , I believe, nothing is revealed because nothing was learned and, despite all manner of ranting and such protests defending one’s unique view, that view is forgotten and another opportunity is lost to move a reader in ways you might not have expected.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019


Blue(s)-
Lori Bell and Ron Satterfield
Lori Bell and Ron Satterfield have spent the last few years wowing and beguiling audiences with their vibrant combination of straight ahead, pop, and boss nova-inflected jazz. Blue(s), their new album, is a welcome release, an intoxicating blend of classic tunes by Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, and Bill Evans among others, and three guileful originals by Bell. Flutist Bell and guitarist /vocalist Satterfield are a musical combination that have the shared the reflexes of swift and nimble dancers, negotiating difficult changes and moving gracefully through a varied and rich field of tempos, moods, and tones. Those of us lucky enough to witness their magic live no Bell’s wonderful accomplishments during a performance. Her improvisations are a sublime complement of speed and grace, with a skill to interpret material, reshape melodies, and play tricky and shifting tempos. Her technique is meteoric, but they do not sacrifice the sweetness of the music in service to mere virtuosity.

Bell’s genius for inventing melodic conceptions in seamless succession fuses with Satterfield’s adroit guitar work. Eschewing solos, he instead switches between different comping requirements with ease, verve, and style. He gleefully alternates between straight up walking bass lines and shuffle patterns to the subdivided syncopations of Bossa nova, and shows the dulcet intuition of a pianist on the more somber material. (Note: Satterfield is a fine pianist as well with an agile and delicate touch, a quality that informs a nearly flawless sense of rhythm and groove. There’s no lack of variety on blue(s). Those requiring their music be up-tempo and big league, Bell’s own “Bell’s Blues” begins the album with all cylinders firing. It’s a hard-swinging blue with some sweet criss-cross changes and the flutist swooping and pirouetting over Satterfield’s propulsive chords; Satterfield, at midpoint, eases into the fury with a lyric scat vocal, mirroring Bell’s effervescent notes with his own vocalese. Satterfield’s voice is one wonder of Southern California jazz.
The pair retook Monk’s “Blue Monk” into a 6/8 time rush, the usually doleful melody transformed into whistling, scat-happy whimsy. Satterfield launches firmly from a beautifully clipped Latin groove and propels the material with galloping chords, over which Bell decorates the combustible pace with an airy, sprite set of improvisations, springing off Satterfield’s able time keeping. Another high point is a refreshingly sprite arrangement of Miles Davis’s classic “All Blues.” With rare exceptions, later versions of the tune have treated Davis’ original arrangement–slow, somber, casually yet firmly swaying–as sacrosanct. Bell and Satterfield prefer to create anew, allowing them to mess with the song’s mood, elevating from its muted and brooding essence as a tone poem and turn that swaying motion into something close to a swinging rhythm. Bell’s mastery is in full evidence, weaving sprite, flutter-tongued phrases over and between Satterfield’s brisk and agile chord voicings.

DYLAN SINGS TERRIBLY, AND THAT'S WHAT MAKES HIM A BRILLIANT VOCALIST


image If you're wondering, ever, why rock criticism is The Red-Light District of the reviewing arts, this article recently posted on the Esquire website to celebrate Bob Dylan's 78th birthday, shows the reason. The essay baldly asserts that Dylan is "The Greatest American Singer of All Time". Written by someone named Jeff Slate, a songwriter and occasional music journalist, the piece an unctuous, overeager stroll through the obvious facts of Dylan's career , laced with fatuous claims for this to be the greatest American singer. The basic formulation is that as a developing artist, a man dedicated to making a splash in the music world with the resources at this command, the young Dylan had tried on several musical styles—blues, folk, field hollers, gospel, rock-and-roll, and that he had made each style his own reinventing all of them. The basic problem is that Dylan has an awful instrument for carrying a tune. 

There's room for an agreement that the Bard of the Counter Culture has created a good number of impressive, moving, and subtle vocal performances during his long stay in the public eye, but that isn't the same thing as being the Greatest Singer this culture has ever produced. Slate gushes like a nervously prolix fanboy as he over rates the artist's obvious accomplishment. He undersells what was going on in the kind of reinvention that's required for an artist of latent genius to accomplish anything beyond the bathroom and the hairbrush.Dylan is a great singer because he had the ability that suited the qualities and limitations of his voice. All great songwriters do this, especially with Burt Bacharach, who wrote perfect melodies for a stream of quirky vocalists who , without him, likely would have trouble finding a good ftt for their native sound. I am thinking specifically of Dionne Warwick and Gene Pitney, two singers who, I'm convinced, might have languished without Bacharach's melodic accommodations of their strengths. 

Dylan is a more extreme example of this. His early versions of anonymous folk classics are drearily cluttered with many affectations that make me cringe when played . The genius of his vocal style didn't develop until he committed to writing his songs; the affectations began to fall away and, by the time we come to Blonde on Blonde, we've experienced a long string of potent lyrics dramatized b y a singular , original style that handily introduced and forced acceptance of a new aesthetic in pop singing. Mick Jagger is someone I'd say is an artist who followed the same route, a man with a technically awful voice who, in partner Keith Richard, had a voice that could create musical context and frame Jagger's singing.

 I've argued that Dylan and Jagger were not singers, but VOCALISTS, men who could do interesting things with their voice to dramatize a lyric. What those two do is a certain singing, but the distinction is helpful in keeping one's statements about an artist's work both sober and sane.Dylan, though, is not the greatest American singer. Sinatra can , hypothetically, could sing "Blowing in the Wind" or "Just Like a Woman" with style and aplomb (the results , no doubt, would sound ridiculous), but Dylan couldn't handle a single tune from Sinatra's songbook. Many  argue otherwise,insisting he could pull off the fete and change music history again.but the brilliance of this man, Dylan, lies entirely on the work he created.On his own songs, the gentleman rules without peer. "No sings Dylan like Dylan" was an early Columbia slogan for the songwriter, quite a prescient declaration as we take the long view of his career. But is less about Dylan's singing than it is about the article writer's rote hyperbole.



Sunday, May 26, 2019

T.S. ALL OVER THE PLACE


 T. S. Eliot wrote in a time when the Universe seemed to be rent, with heaven and hell bleeding into one another, a career on the heels of two world wars that shattered optimism one may have had for the promise of technology to replace a silent god, is hardly different that the dread that lurks under the covers of the postmodern debate over language's ability to address anything material, or have it convey ideas with any certainty. There is the fear that the names we give to things we think are important and worth preserving are, after a ball, based on nothing. Grim prospects, that, but Eliot seeks to provoke a reader's investigation into the source of the malaise, the bankruptcy of useful meaning, with a hope that the language reinvigorated with a power to transform and change the world.
Eliot's response was real art though, and if it turned into resignation and nostalgia for more-meaningful past times, his articulation at least provokes a response in the reader, and operates as a challenge for them to make sense of his language, and understand the complexity of their own response. This adheres to Pound's modernist ideal that art ought to not just be about the times in which it's made, but that it needs to provoke a response that changes the times: transformation remains the submerged notion.
There is beauty because there is power in the imagery and the emotion behind it and it's powerful because it rings true; a reader recognizes the state of affairs Eliot discusses with his shimmering allusions and responds to it. The material does not lie, and he isn't being false by saying "this is my response to our time and our deeds". Rather, it's more that one disagrees with Eliot's conclusion, that all is naught, useless, gone to ashes. Better that one inspects the power of the truth is in the work and develops their own response to their moment. It's less useful to argue with someone's real despair. A depressed expression does not make up lying.
Eliot was not lying in any sense of the word--lying is a willful act, done so intending to make someone believe something that is demonstrably untrue. As the point of The Quartets and his plays have to do with an artful outlaying of Eliot's seasoned ambivalence to his time, the suggestion that "beauty lies" is specious. One has a license to argue with the conclusions, or to critique the skill of the writer, but the vision here is not faked dystopia Eliot contrived to a good amount of trendy despair—that comes later, with artless confessional poets who lost any sense of beauty to their own addiction to their ultimately trivial self-esteem issues. Eliot, however one views him, sought transcendence of what he regarded as an inanely short-sighted world, and sought to address the human condition in a lyric language that has, indeed, found an audience that continues to argue with his work: the work contains a truth the readership recognizes. Eliot was following suit on the only prerogative an artist, really, has open to them: to be an honest witness to the evidence of their senses, and to marshal every resource in their grasps to articulate the fleeting sensations, the ideas within the experience.
This is the highest standard you can hold an artist to; any other criteria, any other discursive filter one wants to run the work through is secondary, truth be told, because the truth within the work is the source of that work's power. One need to recognize what it is in the lines, in the assemblage and drift of the lyric, in the contrasted tones and delicate construction of vernaculars, what is that one recognizes and responds to in the work, and then mount their response.
There is more to the Four Quartets or the plays than what assume is admits defeat in the hard glare of uncompromising , godless materialism—there is hope that his work inspires future imagining greater than even his own — but I cannot regard the poems as failures in any sense, even with the admission that there is great beauty in them. Eliot renders his consciousness, his contradictory and ambivalent response to the world he's grown old in with perfect pitch, and it's my sense that his intention to provoke the imagination is a sublime accomplishment. As craft and agenda, the later pieces work.
What does Eliot's despair have to do with postmodern writers and writing?
It's less about what one can call his "despair" than what his operating premise has in common with the postmodern aesthetic: Eliot, the Modernist poet extraordinaire, perceives the world the universe has having any definable center, any unifying moral force formally knowable by faith and good works.
There is despair in the works behind the lines--one responds to them emotionally and intellectually and the power behind the images, the shimmering surfaces the diminished, de-concretized narrator feels estranged from, comes from a felt presence, a real personality. Eliot, though, turns the despair into a series of ideas, and makes the poetry an argument with the presence day. There is a pervasive sense of everything being utterly strange in the streets, bridges over rivers, strangeness at the beach, and we, it sounds, a heightened sense of voices, media, bombs, headlines competing for the attention of someone who realizes that they're no longer a citizen in a culture where connection to a core set of meanings, codes and authority offers them a security, but are instead consumers, buyers, economic in a corrupt system that only exploits and denudes nature, culture, god.
Eliot conveys the sense of disconnection rather brilliantly, reflecting the influence of an early cinematic editing styles: as Jacob has, for once, articulated well, Eliot is a modernist by his association with the period, though at heart he was very much a Christian romantic seeking to find again some scripture’s surety to ease his passage through the world of man and his material things. There has always been this yearning for a redemption of purpose in the vaporous sphere, and much of his work, especially in criticism, argued that the metaphysical aspect could be re-established, recreated, re-imagined (the operative word) through the discipline of artistic craft. Modernists, ultimately, shared many of the same views of postmodernism regarding the world being a clashing, noisy mess of competing, unlinked signifiers, but postmodernism has given up the fight of trying to place meaning in the world, and also the idea that the world is changed for the better. Modernists, as I take them in their shared practice and aesthetic proclamations, are all romantics, though their angle and color of their stripes may vary. Romanticism, in fact, is an early modernism: the short of it is that there is a final faith in the individual to design the design of the world, and change its shape by use of his imagination
Eliot's turn to religious quietism isn't so surprising, given the lack of self-effacing wit in his writing that might have lessened the burden of his self-created dread of the modern world: a tenet of modernism, shared by any writer worthy of being called so, is that their work was to help the readers, the viewers, the audience, perceive the world afresh, from new perspectives, in new arrangements, to get to the "real" order of things behind their appearances, and, understanding, change the world again.
Temperaments among poets varied as to how they responded to their need to live aesthetically and in all cases, living aesthetically was a viable substitute for a religious rigor--Stevens chose his Supreme Fiction while being an insurance executive, Pond toyed with fascism and economics, Joyce opted for a life in the eroticized parlors of France and Britain, Williams found connection through his medical practice and biology, related, absolutely with his poetry. Over all, what keenly separates the modernist engagement with meaning creation was that it was the things of this world, this plain, this material reality, that were the things that would help us transform individual perception; the thing itself is its own adequate symbol. A nod to Husserl and phenomenology, the meaning of things in the world, as things, was mysterious indeed, but their form didn't come from the mind of a God who was an absent landlord. Eliot, though, sought religion, and I don't see that as a failure at all: the work is too powerful to be regarded as either a personal failure, if that's a claim one might, nor as a poet. Eliot, as you say, is a poet of ideas, among other things, but ideas are useless in a poem unless they're seamlessly linked with an emotion, an impulse, and it's possible to see where the work was going: the kind of world Eliot described, with the kind of intelligence and personality that described it, was a bleak and unlivable sphere, requiring a decision, to commit to something that supplies meaning, fits the personality that needs direction. I don't regard Eliot as artifact at all: I've commented previously on how the work still inspires readers to engage the world in new ways: he is a permanent influence on my work as a poet.
The early modernists rejected the romantic label--for a variety of reasons.
I'm sure they had good reasons, but Modernism, in many respects, is an old project with a new label. Joyce and the Futurists and Eliot and Pound and Yeats and Gertrude Stein, Hemingway and Fitzgerald... all in the same box? Less being in the same box than being under the same big tent. A very big tent.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

ENDGAME SUCKS HARD ENOUGH TO VACUUM YOUR CARPET

Image result for AVENGERS ENDGAME SUCKSThe fact of the matter is Avengers: Endgame brings the first phase of the Marvel movie saga to a close, all eleven years of overlapping superhero movies in exhausting connected universe. The shared universe is exhausting, yet, but also exhausted, as in a tired, used up, of gas, predictable. Though the fanboy in each of us wants superhero movies , as a genre, to remain fresh and diverting and, like The Western or the Horror film, to remain a lively genre for writers and producers to delve into, Marvel products, at the second half of their decade-long run at least, have gone from fresh and spunky and reflecting a lively energy to being a predictable set of plot motions, no less so, say, than later seasons of Law and Order where longtime viewers can literally count the beats of each scene , know what cues will signify a crucial piece of evidence, how long one has to wait for the Surprise Twist. For all the expensive gloss, impressive professionalism, a very real sense of humor and a surfeit of superb actors doing outstanding work while wearing spandex costumes, the movies, all 21 of them, including Endgame, seem less and less engaged with a big story,the unfolding of a saga, the moral dilemmas that arise when good vs evil than they do with becoming more manic, chattier, glibber, frenetic to no real effect; the present movie takes up nearly three hours cramming in as many characters as possible, from all the movies, citing plot points from many films to prove, again, that these stories are connected, and, perhaps reflective of the aforementioned sense of exhaustion that has pervaded many of Marvel's releases in the half-decade, there is much desultory discussion, digressions, and disquisitions among the characters about how tired they are, how disillusioned they are becoming, how hard it all seems. what It leaves unsaid is how bored the performances seem, bored to the bone. To spirit things along, to pick up the pace, there they expected set pieces and the expected appearance of every MCU hero from the 11 years of movies. This makes me think of nothing less than Fibber McGee's Closet, a closet so far beyond capacity that a chance opening of the door threatens a city-wide catastrophe. There is much, much summing up, explaining, complaining, large chunks of shtick. They mean us to have a teary-eyed farewell to characters we've come to love as this chapter of the Marvel Universe closes and they pass the torch on to the next generation of costumed clods. The manipulation of audience emotion was as ham-handed as the pacing was lead-footed. This three-hour ordeal just made me wish everyone on the screen would die and we could all go home at last. The hard fact is that Avengers Endgame is less entertaining than watching a dog pinch a loaf on your front lawn. It is an awful movie.